US Pouts Over Potential Crimea Spillover While Russia Enters P5+1 Talks With Optimism

Alissa Rubin today has two separate articles in the New York Times that parrot US misgivings ahead of today’s round of talks between the P5+1 group of countries and Iran. In the article that went up first, Rubin offers anonymity to a “senior American official” to do some hand-wringing over how Russia’s move toward full annexation of Crimea could disrupt US-Russian relations to the point that the P5+1 negotiations could be thrown off track:

Tensions between the West and Russia over events in Ukraine have cast a shadow over the second round of talks set to begin on Tuesday in Vienna on a permanent nuclear agreement with Iran.


A senior American official, speaking before the Iran talks and just before the secession vote in Crimea on Sunday that overwhelmingly approved reunification with Russia, indicated concern about possible consequences from the friction over Ukraine. Since western nations consider that vote illegal and have warned President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia not to annex Crimea, the situation for the Iran talks would now seem more worrisome.

“I think that we all hope that the incredibly difficult situation in Ukraine will not create issues for this negotiation,” said the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks.

“We hope that whatever happens in the days ahead, whatever actions we and the international community take, depending upon the decisions and the choices that Russia makes, that any actions that Russia subsequently takes will not put these negotiations at risk,” the official said.

Rubin allows this “official” to frame the situation as only dire while completely ignoring that significant and rapid progress was made on the negotiations for Syria to abandon its chemical weapon stockpile while the US and Russia were on completely opposite sides of the Syrian conflict. In the current case, while Russia is more closely aligned to Iran than the rest of the P5+1, their differences with the group on general issues of nuclear proliferation are much smaller than the differences between the US and Russia in the Syrian conflict. So why is Crimea a barrier to talks with Iran when being on opposite sides of the Syrian conflict wasn’t a barrier to an agreement on chemical weapon destruction?

Even when Rubin moves on to her article relating Iran’s interest in seeing the talks progress, she can’t resist opening with a repeat of the concerns of a spillover of Crimean tensions:

As talks on a permanent nuclear agreement with Iran resumed in Vienna on Tuesday, under the shadow of tensions between the West and Russia, Iran said the onus to ensure progress was on the world powers with which it is negotiating.

“Important and tough discussions ahead today,” Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said on Twitter. “We have held our end of the bargain. Time for our counterparts to keep theirs.”

The article then goes on to repeat many of the same paragraphs from the original, including the senior American official quotes, although it does mention in passing that EU negotiator Catherine Ashton and Zarif held a brief meeting prior to the main negotiations opening this morning.

Contrast that with the reporting in the Iranian press. PressTV reports that Russia is in fact optimistic about the talks:

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov says there is good reason to hope that the new round of the nuclear talks between Iran and six world powers will bring about progress.

The talks between Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council – China, Russia, Britain, France and the United States – plus Germany have resumed at the UN headquarters in the Austrian capital of Vienna.

“Everyone is in the working mood and there are grounds to hope that progress will be achieved but without crucial agreements since this is only the second round,” Ryabkov, who is Russia’s chief negotiator in the talks, said upon his arrival in Vienna on Monday.

An agenda for the talks was agreed on in talks Monday between deputies for the two sides:

Iran’s deputy FM for Legal and International Affairs Abbas Araghchi and deputy EU foreign policy chief Helga Schmid have met in Vienna and agreed on the agenda of the fresh round of talks over Iran’s nuclear energy program .


Zarif said on Monday that the new round of nuclear negotiations between Iran and the six world powers will focus on uranium enrichment and Arak heavy water reactor.

Normally, Zarif and Ashton meet for dinner on the evening before talks begin, but last night’s dinner was cancelled by Iran because Ashton held an unannounced meeting with figures Iran referred to as “convicted seditionists” on her last trip to Tehran.

Mehr News notes that even though last night’s dinner was cancelled, Ashton and Zarif did meet ahead of the official opening of the talks this morning (as was also reported by Rubin above).

So while the US pouts over Putin annexing Crimea, Russia and Iran see no barriers to making significant progress toward a final agreement that could be reached this summer on Iran’s nuclear program. Here’s hoping the US learns to deal with separate issues on separate tracks and doesn’t miss this opportunity to avoid a war that seemed inevitable only a few months ago.

Postscript: While this post was being written, Reuters published a story under the headline “Ukraine crisis not seen hurting Iran nuclear talks: EU“. It opens:

 Iran and six world powers sought on Tuesday to make headway toward resolving their decade-old nuclear dispute, with Western officials expressing hope talks would not be further complicated by the Ukraine crisis.

So far, diplomats said, there is little sign that the worst East-West confrontation since the Cold War would undermine the quest for a deal over Iran’s atomic activity and avert the threat of a Middle East war.

The March 18-19 meeting between Iran and the powers – the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany – began a day after Washington and the European Union imposed sanctions on Russian officials over events in Crimea.

“I haven’t seen any negative effect,” Michael Mann, a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton who coordinates the talks on behalf of the six nations, told reporters. “We continue our work in a unified fashion”.

Awww. Those poor hand-wringers are just going to have to toughen up and carry on with their negotiations.

4 replies
  1. Don Bacon says:

    I fail to see any rationale for these “talks” that consume so much diplomatic fodder and expend so much energy. The US and its Western puppets either accept Iran nuclear enrichment and the Arak heavy water reactor or they don’t. And if they don’t, what can they possibly do about it that they haven’t failed on already?

    So there must be acceptance and they just have to make it look complicated. It has to be a “critical issue,” dragged out interminably, sort of like I/P.

  2. Joanne Leon says:

    No wonder her anonymous source wouldn’t go on the record. I note they say “American official” not “administration official”. Sounds like your typical neocon who would love to derail these talks.

    As for the Crimea situation, our government is acting out like a bratty child or a kid who likes to make up the rules as she goes along during the kickball game. It’s embarrassing. And the neocons are downright reckless. The whole world is watching John McCain and John Kerry isn’t much better. It’s beyond embarrassing.

  3. Michael Murry says:

    Speaking of Mad Dog John McCain, it looks like he just can’t refrain from butting in where no one needs him and advocating insanity year after year after year. Hence:

    Mad Dog John McCain Bombs Again

    Get a life, John McCain: Now. Tonight.
    We’re so sick of you and all your slogans trite
    Face it: you lost back in ‘Nam
    So you’ll never sell your scam
    That if given one more chance you’ll do it right

    You couldn’t fly a plane to save your ass
    Now you want to peddle jokes of bombing crass
    Seems your time spent in the clink
    Never caused you much to think
    Of the people down below whom you would gas

    Not a pretty sight, your abject lack of grace
    Seems some stitches you should once again replace
    Then each time you kiss the bum
    Of some vicious right-wing scum
    You’ll get less shit on your sagging, lifted face

    Don’t you know when you’re not wanted, John McCain?
    Have you no conception of the grief and pain
    That your hero George has wrought
    Even though he never fought
    In the war that you forgot for your own gain?

    Why on earth do you suppose that we would choose
    Such a reckless fool as you to light the fuse
    Of another needless crime
    That you’d start to pass the time
    Just until you show another way to lose?

    One can summarize your policy insane
    As a take-off on the Third Reich’s brutal bane:
    “Where our soldier plants his boot
    On some foreign country’s loot
    Why then, there forever after he’ll remain”

    Not a dollar for a doctor, school, or job;
    Yet more billions for some bombs that you can lob
    At those hapless foreign souls
    Whom you brutalize for polls
    Claiming that your “straight talk” lies persuade the mob

    Oh, I hope you get that nomination soon
    Then your party can collapse into a swoon
    From the stench that fills the air
    Of that albatross you wear
    Dead as your career: you clueless, crude cartoon!

    Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright 2007, 2008

  4. Don Bacon says:

    Mar 18, 2014
    83 Senators Send Iran Letter to Obama

    …We believe Iran has no reason to have an enrichment facility like Fordow, that the regime must give up its heavy water reactor at Arak, and that it must fully explain the questionable activities in which it engaged at Parchin and other facilities. We believe Iran must fully resolve concerns addressed in United Nations Security Council resolutions, including any military dimensions of its nuclear program. We believe Iran must also submit to a long-term and intrusive inspection and verification regime to achieve the goal described in the Joint Plan of Action of “reaffirm[ing] that under no circumstances will Iran ever seek or develop any nuclear weapons.”…

    includes Elizabeth Warren, Al Franken, Edward Markey

    It appears that these senators have accepted the Iran nuclear enrichment program.

    This letter was perhaps lighter than the previous letter sent last August.

    Aug 2, 2013
    senate letter

    signed by 76 senators
    including: Elizabeth Warren, Al Franken, Edward Markey

    –renewed sense of urgency
    –time for diplomacy nearing its end
    –demand immediate serious moves on Iran’s part
    –suspend enrichment
    –cease installing centrifuges
    –agree to remove 20% enriched uranium
    –cease work on heavy water reactor in Arak

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